Something truly exciting transpired around the turn of the century (yes, about a year ago): a batch of fresh and thrilling records were coming out in disparate parts of the world, connected by a red thread. Between Chicks on Speed, Stereo Total and Le Tigre, it seemed like girls were poised to take over the world with their noisy toys. Lifting rhythm sections from the uncoolest organs and showcasing kind of weird female vocals, the releases by these three groups seemed to constitute a prophetic moment for fun and funny dance music like no other dance music before. While Stereo Total comes off as completely apolitical, and the Chix speak to followers of a particular art world, Le Tigre are explicitly political and interested in the production of political art and discourses. If you aren’t familiar with their self-titled release, there is something terribly wrong. Drop everything and go get it right now.
The lead voice of Le Tigre is a familiar one, that of Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Julie Ruin). Whereas the Le Tigre LP elided Hanna’s Pacific Northwestern, Riot Grrrl history in favor of an explicitly coastal engagement with politics (Giuliani), art (from Cassavetes to Schneeman), and feminist scholarship (Spivak and Davis), this new EP foregrounds that history. The first track, “Get off the Internet” begins, “It feels so ’80s / Or early ’90s / To be political.” Yes it does, but here we are under another Bush administration, which provided the anxious ferment for Riot Grrrl and Third Wave. Now that the grrrls are growing up, everyone is trying to figure out what did or did not work within that historical political moment, and where books like Manifesta crop up, Hanna analogously wonders “This is repetitive / But nothing has changed / Am I crazy?” It is repetitive and scary how little has changed, but the Julie Ruin record and the first Le Tigre release did show change, employing different rhetoric and sound strategically, and danceably.
The problem with the new Le Tigre is, as a friend of mine rather flippantly stated, “they aren’t Public Enemy”. Maybe we are jaded, or caught in some kind of political/cultural feedback loop, but at its weakest moments, From the Desk of Mr. Lady sounds so ’80s or early ’90s, teetering dangerously on the brink of nostalgia. The sound collage of “They want us to make a symphony out of the sound of women swallowing their own tongues” is smart and gorgeous. That, the closing remix of “All that Glitters”, and the brilliant use of a Cathy comic in the packaging are worth the purchase price alone, but be prepared. Other tracks fall a bit flat, and if you have any kind of investment in the recent histories of feminist politics and music, you may walk away as I did, feeling conflicted (but happy, nonetheless, that Le Tigre exists).